The Tablecloth Challenge

The tablecloth trick is a great metaphor for switching to zero carbon, so we’re inviting you and everyone you know to take the challenge. 


chat Posted Nov 29, 2016 by Rezwan | Category : Philosophy Fun
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Are you ready for the Tablecloth Challenge?

It’s like a regular tablecloth trick except:

  1. The Table represents the Earth.
  2. The Tablecloth represents Fossil Fuels
  3. And the Stuff piled on the table represents Civilization.
  4. The challenge, metaphorically, is to get off of Fossil Fuels without destroying Civilization.

Think you can do it?

Of course you can!

I believe in you!

Pro tip:

Pull DOWN and fast.

Not UP as pictured here.

Or else
there goes Paris!

Too late.

You can do it.

I believe in you.

But… may have doubts.

And that’s the point of this exercise! To check your mindset of automatic pessimism and inertia. To shake up the tendency to avoid thinking about what it would take to pull off what we need to pull off.

If you can pull the tablecloth out from a pile of stuff, what else is much easier than you thought it would be?

And now…

Take the Tablecloth Challenge!

Just do it!  Take the #TableclothChallenge and flip that psychic switch inside you that needs to be flipped. Here is a helpful breakdown.

First, take a deep breath

How do you feel? About racing to zero carbon? About pulling tablecloths out from tables? Are you ready to make some big switches? Don’t worry! Not many people are truly ready to go all the way to zero carbon. And that’s OK. The point here is to just get in touch with how you actually, honestly feel.

No judgment. Feelings exist. 

Next, find yourself a table.

Any table will do.  I have a nice round one.

My friend painted it to look like the EARTH.

Which looks great! The downside: Before painting, it was a smooth metal table which was super easy to do the tablecloth trick on. The lightest, most delicate objects would remain in place as the cloth whooshed right out under them. With the paint, it’s a bit rougher. More challenging! Bring it on!

Cover it with a tablecloth

Ideally, a black tablecloth. To represent fossil fuels, of course. Take a moment to ponder Fossils. That awesome goo that got our civilization up and running but, OOPS, had some side effects.

Pro tip: The cloth should be slippery, silky, viscose. Bonus points for polyester, a petroleum product. And without a hem is better. The hem has a chance of catching on the table.

Pile stuff on the table

Whatever you can find. This symbolizes civilization. Pile it high.

Try various combos. Put things that have a symbolic meaning for you. Whatever works! Heavier is easier. Start with things you don’t mind breaking (Or that thing you were hoping to break?) which reminds me…

Disclaimer: Footprint to Wings is not responsible for any damages to participants or “Civilization” table toppers in the course of the #TableclothChallenge.

Pro tip:

You can also put a bunch of things on a tray. This is good at fairs where many people will be taking the challenge. You can easily spot Newbies by being prepared. Hold your hand at the edge of the tray, finger pointed and ready to drop down and hold the tray in case the Newbie is pulling the tablecloth too slowly. When they pull slowly - “civilization” gets pulled to the edge and can come crashing down. This is a great lesson in inertia. We need to move QUICKLY to solve this problem.

If this happens, your spotting will save the day. But do remember to reset the table and get the Newbie to do it again - FASTER. Some people take a few tries and it’s even more rewarding when they succeed.

Now, grab the tablecloth…

...and pull!

Just yank it right off!

The trick is to pull the cloth down toward the ground. Here’s a nice youtube video about the physics of this trick. It’s all about inertia. It turns out that the tablecloth trick works best when you pull the cloth out quickly and downward. The faster you pull, the better the chance of leaving things standing. Also, the heavier the objects on the table, the more likely they will remain standing.

But aside from the objects on the table, what about the blocks in your mind? When you snap off the cloth, is there something that clicks in your psyche? What happens?

Take another deep breath.

How do you feel? Talk among your co-challenge takers. And please share your experience with us! Any insights? We want to know!

Share on Social Media and invite others to take the challenge!

We hope you enjoy the #TableclothChallenge and invite your friends and family to take it too!

Don’t forget to take photos, video and share on social media with #TableclothChallenge and #RacetoZeroCarbon. Share with us on twitter @Footprint2Wings and also on Facebook.

If it helps, make a placard!

What comes next?

Getting to zero carbon is difficult. The purpose of the Tablecloth Challenge is not to make it seem easy. The purpose is to blast away the automatic hopelessness so you can roll up your sleeves and focus. Or as Andy would say, “it’s not about getting rid of anxiety, but about being with it, investigating it.” We need that investigative mindset to get to zero carbon.

As Zero Carbon Coaches, we often meet people who don’t focus because they’ve already decided it’s a lost cause (the planet?!), and there’s no point in doing anything about it.

This won’t do.

It’s crucial to be in touch with our feelings if we want to win this game. To change our relationship with our anxiety paralysis. The #Tablecloth Challenge is one way to do that (we’re looking at others!)

Aside from feelings, there’s a lot of strategy to process. And we’ve got you covered there as well. Actually, we’re working on getting you covered. It’s also a process!

As you know, Footprint to Wings’ mission is to turn the Race to Zero Carbon into a national pastime and coach each state to win. We want to take States ALL THE WAY to zero carbon, play by play. It’s tough, but we’ve thought through many of the plays and see many paths. We’re writing the the zero carbon playbook to shine a light on all of this.

Join our merry band and contribute to make this work happen. We can’t do it without you! All Players in the house!

To zero carbon and beyond.

Take the #TableclothChallenge! Flip that psychic switch inside you that needs to be flipped.  Whatever is making you feel hopeless, you need to face it. Leverage the interplay of body and mind to prove to yourself that some things are more possible than they might appear. 
Bonus: this exercise works for other blocked areas of your life, not just Race to Zero Carbon anxieties.


Are you grappling with doubts? So are we! Our job is to turn the Race to Zero Carbon into a national pastime. We’re constantly bumping into people’s doubts. What do we do about it? What can you do?




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